I’ve been to see a lot of Tyler Perry’s baggy pants comedies and race-specific melodramas. But before I saw his latest, “Temptation,” I’d never known his audience to dismiss one of his movie stories before. Last Saturday night, the first weekend the movie (subtitled “Confessions of a Marriage Counselor”) hit town, his fans were hooting at the tragic turns—so and so got HIV. “Of course!” Giggling and a few guffaws.
How did this one-man movie machine—he’s directed and written at least ten movies that have played in Manhattan in the last ten years—fail the audience he says he knows? Perhaps he has finally gone too far. Giving us a goody-good girl, having her succumb to the seduction techniques of a jet-plane owning “social media” entrepreneur, and then punishing her almost to the point of hysteria while relying on a wowser of a coincidence—this may be like having Fonzie jump his ride over a circling shark.
Too much. Too much. Too much. Or perhaps the problem is that the audience has gotten from of Perry’s social evangelicalism as much as they can get. Either way, ticket holders thought things were silly in the repetitive, routine “Temptation.”
The story begins and ends with a “frame.” A young couple are in a utilitarian office discussing their marriage with a tired, dowdy counselor. When the young man leaves in frustration, the female counselor turns gypsy fortune teller to remark that the young wife has met another man who excites her. Then she tells the story that we see dramatized. Supposedly the main character is the counselor’s sister.
Judith and Brice were childhood sweethearts who grew up in the rural south. Somehow they managed to get through graduate school, got married, and found work in D.C., he as a pharmacist and she at an up-scale matchmaking business run by Vanessa Williams. Judith wants to be a marriage counselor but the young couple can’t afford to set her up with an office yet.
A young woman played by Brandy Norwood, who used to be Moesha on t.v., is hired by Brice’s comic boss to work at the drug store. Eventually he learns that Melinda is hiding from her abusive ex-husband. The pill compounder agrees to walk her to and from work once the unseen (alert!) husband finds out her address.
Meanwhile Judith meets rich Harley, a potential investor in the matchmaking business. As they collaborate on the design of an on-line compatibility questionnaire, he begins making the moves on her. He buys her clothes, takes her on his jet to New Orleans, and scoffs at Brice for being sexually conservative and for forgetting Judith’s birthday.
Her visiting mother, a sort of Medea stand-in, drops by to dope out Judith’s personal problem. But the attractions of the high life (including offers of a new office for her counseling business, of illegal drugs, and of drink) may prove to be too much for Judith’s apparently remarkably weak will.
The crowd started to laugh during the sex scene on the plane, which like all the sex scenes was discrete to the point of being foggy and which, like other scenes in the movie, was just moving pictures under sweeping pop ballads. By the time Ma is at the apartment, audience members were loud making comments on the action. Later there would be reactions just short of jeering.
I felt like jeering. There may be Americans who need to be told over and over that ethical behavior has a purpose, but hasn’t Perry reached them yet? Does he have anything to say to those of us who have already gogged the basics of decent behavior?